Up Front and Personal

The Power of Courtesy

By Father Eugene Hemrick

“Be known for your courtesy: It alone can make you worthy of praise. Courtesy is the best part of culture, a kind of enchantment and it wins the goodwill of all, just as rudeness wins only scorn and universal annoyance.

“When rudeness comes from pride, it is detestable; when from bad breeding, it is contemptible. Better too much courtesy than too little. … Treat your enemies with courtesy and you’ll see how valuable it really is. It costs little but pays a nice dividend: Those who honor are honored.”

The quote by Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracian was written more than 300 years ago. Although it is centuries old, it speaks especially to our times.

Courtesy is the will to give others room – and space. It avoids oppressive closeness, embarrassment and the sting of painful circumstances.

The Beauty of Breathing Room

During my ministry, most  of the divorces I witnessed resulted in one spouse restricting the space of the other. No longer was there breathing room to live together peacefully. Restrictions had choked the life out of their marriage.

An open atmosphere that encourages mutual sharing and uplifts the human spirit was nonexistent.

Theologian Father Romano Guardini further points out, “Courtesy requires time. In order to exercise it, we must stop and wait; we must make a detour; and we must be considerate and defer our own affairs.” Patience and courtesy go hand in hand.

Little, if any, time is allowed in our “deadline media age” to have decent conversations. In some talk shows, it is common to see a person interrupted in midspeech and to hear ideas flying here and there and never land.

Some consider this good old-fashioned bantering. But a closer look often reflects rudeness for the sake of rudeness and dialogue with no true discourse.

Dignity and Graciousness

Courtesy’s ultimate purpose is making life beautiful. Why say this? It is because dignity is at its heart. When we act dignified, graciousness is at its best.

St. Paul lists another essential dimension of courtesy in encouraging us: “Anticipate one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

In other words, continuously be on the alert to promote the goodness and talents in those you meet.

There is the saying: “You can attract more bees with honey than vinegar.” Would that those who influence our society use courtesy’s power to sweeten our life more. How wise the Psalms are in using the image of honey to symbolize a community in harmony.


Father Hemrick writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.

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